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Revelations of Divine Love at Belsey Bridge

Revelations of Divine Love at Belsey Bridge

Cathy Michell, a Chaplain at ERMC, reflects on the painting by Alan Oldfield in the chapel at Belsey Bridge Conference Centre – a painting that students and alumni will remember vividly.

“Until October this year, the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre was ‘home’ to the ERMC’s teaching weekends. Sadly, it has now closed and so the course had its final Eucharist there on 16 October 2022. The conference centre was part of the All Hallows convent and two of the nuns who had been part of this community joined us for this farewell communion service.

“I had been meaning for years to tell students about the striking and very large picture that hangs at the front of the modern chapel there; so my final sermon was about this reredos by the Australian artist Alan Oldfield that was given to the convent in the early 1990s by The Friends of Julian of Norwich. The painting was one in a series of 21 by this artist, all portraying various aspects of Julian’s life and her ‘shewings’ or visions. She was a C14th mystic and anchoress (a type of hermit), and is famous for being the first woman to write a book in English. In her Revelations of Divine Love she described the spiritual experiences she had initially received and her musings upon these over a subsequent twenty years.

“The picture – divided into 16 painted, zig-zag panels to represent her 16 visions – shows the figure of Mother Julian standing in her cell before a lectern bearing her book. A candle standing for spiritual insight and the light of God, burns to one side. She seems to be enclosed by the cell walls, yet she gazes beyond her place and time towards an empty cross and the central figure of Christ. He bears a cross-shaped scar on his chest and is draped in shining white cloth. His hands are stretched out as if in blessing on the congregation below, his eyes downcast in humility, his head bearing the double crown of blood and of kingship seen by Julian in her revelations. She wrote of the centrality of Jesus in her theology, particularly her visions of his Passion, but also in his guise as a servant standing by God’s side dressed in the ragged clothing of human sin; Jesus as Adam and as Everyman, suffering and full of pity and love, for fallen humanity.

“Travelling further across the picture we see floating at Christ’s side, a small planet-like object shining out. This is ‘the Point’ Julian talks of, a symbol of the unity and transcendence of God sensed by mystic contemplation. But also her image of the hazelnut is referenced here, standing for the littleness of Creation, the Earth that God made, sustains and loves.  The artist then presents symbols of the general Resurrection at the end of time, the grave cloths and shining streamers represent the bright raiment clothing the glorified Lord and the new clothing of a redeemed humanity ‘well drest’ (see George Herbert), ‘from head to foot in the goodness of God’, as Julian writes.

“The artist himself summarised his painting’s intention thus,

‘Through His Passion Julian sees Christ’s glory. It is His love for Creation which brings about the resurrection of perfected humanity.’ What it achieves through its composition, colour pallet and symbolism, is to unite us, viewers in today’s world, with Dame Julian’s medieval faith and through this, to experience ourselves her insights into the ‘courtesy’ and profound love of God in Christ.  This is why she could write with confidence of our future:  ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

“We are indebted to the artist, to the nuns of All Hallows, and most of all to Mother Julian, for this gift.”

You can view all 21 paintings in the series on Youtube.